By Jamie Rhodes
WICHITA - SB56 was introduced in the Kansas Senate allowing prosecution of teachers if the parents don’t agree with the curriculum being taught. For instance, a teacher shows Michelangelo’s David statue in an art class, a parent can claim pornographic material was shown. The teacher can then be fined and even spend time in jail.
The bill dissolved in the Kansas House. SB56 was a hard pill to swallow for some teachers, along with issues like recurring budget cuts, extended school hours, the lunch program and the transgender bathroom issue.
Luckily, newly elected Wichita Public Schools, School Board District 1 Representative, Ben Blankley, believes teachers should be shown their value and worth: “Teachers are the experts in their own classrooms. We need to give them the authority to run their own classrooms as they see fit.”
You may have seen Blankley’s familiar face in association with Wichita Shakespeare Company, Wichita Community Theatre or with other theater productions. A fan of hard science fiction, a Systems Integration Engineer at Spirit Aerosystems with a BS degree in Aerospace Engineering, husband and father; Blankley’s defining moment to run for the school board was when, “I started hearing so many stories from faculty and parents about how they felt some of their concerns were not being adequately heard. Since I had a background in community activism, I felt I could provide a good choice to the voters.”
Blankley was asked a series of questions so Liberty Press readers could meet the new District 1 Representative and get a better understanding of him and his positions:
By Grayson Barnes
WICHITA - Alex Gino, the author of George, is a diminutive, elfin character. They laughed and gesticulated animatedly, perched atop a very high stool during their reading and discussion of their book at Wichita State University’s CAC theatre on Nov. 3. Gino was brought to WSU by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Greater Wichita chapter of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network).
GLSEN works with the public schools and has been the center of a recent controversy involving getting copies of George placed in school libraries. The issue is that George is about a transgender girl. To the rest of the world, she appears as George, but Melissa knows who she really is. Through the vehicle of a school play about Charlotte’s Webb, Melissa begins to reveal herself to the world. While she meets bullying and other types of opposition, she is, more significantly, welcomed by supportive friends, family, and school administrators.
George, a 2015 Scholastic publication, has won the Stonewall Book Award, the Lambda Literary Award, the E.B. White Honor, and is a nominee for this year’s William Allen White Children’s Book Award. However, George was not included in a set of William Allen White master list titles provided to every Wichita public elementary school. Gail Becker, a library supervisor for Wichita Public Schools, decided the book included references that are not appropriate for young children.
By Beth Wasson
WICHITA - A shower of change descended on Rain Café and Lounge recently. Gone are the dance floor, loud music, and colorful lights. Instead, more chairs and tables and a softer ambience fill the place, results owner Allen Mairs is happy with. He began the new format in January, after the opening of XY, and continues to tweak things slightly.
When the venue opened in 2009 it was more of a nightclub. The small space with the even smaller dance floor coupled with a crush of people at night was too much for the historic Douglas Ave. building to handle. These concerns about wear and tear on the old structure spurred Mairs to tone the place down.
The subtle alterations resulted in a tone more akin to a neighborhood bar and grill where customers come for food, talk, and relaxation. One thing that isn’t changing, the theme nights and charity events. Customer favorites like Bitchy Bingo, Karaoke, and Trivia Nights continue along with more events in the future. Rain has already raised over $750,000 with the money going to local charities.
By Beth Wasson
WICHITA - Grayson Barnes is on a journey. His thoughts on that journey, going from female to transgender male, recently won first place in the Personal Essay category of the North American Mature Publishers Association (NAMPA) competition. NAMPA reviews stories written and published in newspapers and magazines catering to people 55 and older. The winning essay appeared in The Active Age, February 2017 issue, a magazine for Kansas seniors in Sedgwick, Butler, and Harvey counties.
Faculty from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Columbia judged the 235 entries submitted from 18 publications. The judges had this to say about Barnes’ essay: “Grayson Barnes describes with candor and heartfelt emotion his belatedly taking charge of his life as a transgender man. A testosterone shot injects emotional and mental changes along with the physical ones.”
The award came as a complete surprise to Barnes, who didn’t even know about NAMPA. His winning article is actually a follow-up to a story he wrote last year for The Active Age. A friend encouraged him to write about his transition and the magazine published his first essay last year.
By Ciara Reid, staff reporter
WICHITA - As the weather gets colder, thoughts naturally turn to the warmer seasons and all that comes with it: baseball games, beer drinking on patios and porches, and delicious food trucks. Those lucky enough to live in the Wichita area should keep their eyes peeled for a food truck that looks like it could be the Barbie Dream Camper. Yep, you read that right: your next favorite food truck obsession will likely come in the form of the vehicle of our childhood dreams, aptly named Ken N Barbie’z Rollin Diner.
The owners of this magical food truck are Kelly Ake and Barbie Taber, a lesbian couple who have been together for more than three and a half years. To understand the story behind the name of the food truck, all you need to know is how they met.
“She invited me and a few other friends over to swim and eat,” Ake recalls. “When I found out her real name was Barbie, I popped off and said my name was f***ing Ken. We all laughed and so our friends kinda know the inside joke to Ken N Barbie.”
Ake says that Taber has always loved to cook and wanted to own her own restaurant. Ake is the complete opposite. One evening, the couple started seriously discussing the possibility of running their own food truck. The discussion spiraled from types of food they would offer, to looking at food trucks for sale.
“We started to look at food trucks immediately and went out of town to look at a truck in Lawrence,” Ake says. “I made some phone calls on all the licensing and BOOM it became a reality in about two to three weeks.”
By Ciara Reid, staff reporter
WICHITA - The short film Rosemary and Juliet contains no dialogue or plot, but it may be one of the most gripping, unique films you see all year – and it was created locally in Wichita. Directed and produced by Shane Wallace, the film stars Shanna Berry, Kaemie McCanless, Beckie Jenek, Mark Anderson, and Byron J. Love in a 30-minute visual experience.
Rosemary and Juliet made its debut at this year’s Tallgrass Film Festival. Liberty Press had the chance to interview Wallace about the film.
Liberty Press (LP): How did the idea for Rosemary and Juliet originate?
Shane Wallace (SW): Rosemary and Juliet is an experimental film in terms of editing and artistic design. I wanted to make a film that was free of dialogue, melodrama, or any other filters to allow me to directly impact the audience through visual storytelling. We consider it a visual film rather than a silent film. I also have an amazing group of actors and other filmmakers who I want to constantly work with. Rosemary and Juliet was an excuse to work with [these] fine actors.